Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin this morning introduced his “Path to Prosperity,” a budget plan that he claims will get federal spending under control and eventually eliminate federal debt. The plan calls for a major overhaul of entitlements—something other lawmakers have avoided for fear of political backlash. Medicaid would turn into a system of block grants to states under the Ryan plan, and Medicare would provide beneficiaries a choice of subsidized insurance options rather than continuing what Ryan has called the "blank-check nature" of Medicare. Critics say this would simply shift the cost burden onto states and senior citizens. “The Ryan plan is very simple, and it’s just so wrong,” Democratic Sen. Max Baucus said in a YouTube video on his website. “It takes money from senior citizens and transfers that money to health insurance companies that will then drive up their profits.” [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]
Ryan’s plan would also repeal and defund the healthcare reform law passed last year and freeze domestic discretionary spending at 2008 levels. It mostly leaves defense spending alone.
Some pundits and lawmakers are applauding Ryan for taking leadership on the budget issue. “To be sure, there are troublesome elements to Ryan’s budget proposal,” writes U.S. News blogger Susan Milligan. “But at least the conversation is budget-driven, instead of poll-driven or campaign-driven."
Courageous or not, Ryan's plan is taking heat from critics who say it focuses cuts on programs that benefit the poor and vulnerable. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted her frustration: “The #GOP Ryan budget is a path to poverty for America's seniors & children and a road to riches for big oil.”
Is the budget plan just one step toward a greater discussion of how to handle out-of-control spending and debt, or are these reforms the answer to U.S. fiscal issues?
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